Here is my beloved Wayne White painting that my wife bought me for my 32nd birthday. I look at it every day and it reminds me, yes, to unfollow: to trim my feeds, to cease hate-following, cut the vampires out of my life. But it also reminds me to unfollow myself. Try to Destroy the ego, abandon my sense of who or what I am, forget the noun and do the verbs.
At the end of Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs (a terrific thriller), serial killer Hannibal Lector writes inspector Clarice Starling a letter to let her know he won’t come after her if she won’t come after him. “I have no plans to call on you, Clarice, the world being more interesting with you in it. Be sure to extend me the same courtesy.”
In the (perfect) movie adaptation, Hannibal calls Clarice on the phone, and he says it just a little differently: “The world’s more interesting with you in it.”
I think about this line all the time in our contemporary era. The world is so big and full of people and we’re receiving updates about it all constantly. Sometimes it’s a relief when people — particularly celebrities or artists — mess up and do something awful and we feel we can now just write them off completely. We can unfollow. We can cancel our subscriptions to them, so to speak. “Everyone is Canceled,” was the title of a recent NYTimes piece about the phenomenon, starting with the lede, “Almost everyone worth knowing has been canceled by someone.”
I cancel as much as anyone, I suppose, but I often find myself thinking of that Hannibal Lector line, with a little change to the pronoun. “The world’s more interesting with him in it.” (I used to apply it to Kanye, but never to the president.) Sometimes I modify it for use on music, movies, books, etc.: “This book wasn’t for me, but the world’s more interesting with this book in it.”
The line works in many contexts. You could, for example, flip it around and aim it at yourself: Don’t disappear on us. Don’t cancel your own subscription. Stick around. Keep going. The world is more interesting with you in it.
“I really don’t think the artist is an intellectual. I believe that the artist is a set of nerves.”
I was paging through a catalog of the photomontage work of Hannah Höch when I came across “Angst,” a very simple collage she made in 1970 using a photograph from a 1960 Life magazine article, “Harriet’s Celebrated Show of Nerves”:
It’s not my absolute favorite collage of Höch’s, but the source material fascinated me: the article is about a college janitor who donated her body for dissection after eavesdropping on an anatomy professor complaining in one of his lectures about the availability of corpses to study. (More of the story here.)
On the second page of the article was an image that totally spooked me, because I’d seen it before — I’d found it online back in February, when my son Owen was going through a “human body” phase. I printed it out and gave it to him to copy. I then asked him to write “ALL NERVES” above it:
The drawing currently hangs in my studio. When I look at it, I think about our times, how bombarded with electrical signals we are, how close some of us are to a nervous breakdown, how we all seem to be in the business of getting on each other’s nerves —“the nerve of these creeps!”
Then, sometimes the drawing says to me: Your nerves are all you’ve got. Don’t lose your nerve. Steady your nerves. Touch a nerve.
I think of Frank O’Hara, who said of writing poetry, “You just go on your nerve.”
And Emily Dickinson, who wrote: “If your Nerve, deny you— / Go above your Nerve.”